Football: England seek revenge and glory days: Venison is Venables' surprise debutant in a game the players, rather than the coach, cannot afford to lose

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ALTHOUGH Alexi Lalas may walk out for the United States at Wembley tonight whispering 'Wow, Bruce Springsteen played here', the guitar-playing defender's colleagues are likely to be thinking more of Puskas, Charlton and Beckenbauer.

The United States have never played at the stadium before - or anywhere else at international level in this country - and their appearance is indicative of the problems facing Terry Venables as he begins his plans for the 1996 European Championship in earnest.

It is doubtful this match would have been arranged were most major European nations not engaged in qualifying fixtures. It is a problem which England, as hosts and automatic qualifiers for Euro '96, will face regularly over the next two years.

Moreover, the match would not have been regarded as credible practice had so many nations not caught up with England in recent times, as was dramatically demonstrated by the United States in their 2-0 win over Graham Taylor's team at Foxboro last year. Indeed, the Americans are still not taken seriously by many people, with the consequence that the ground will be half-empty and Venables will be vilified if England lose.

It is not, however, a match in which England have everything to lose (that is other than the dollars 25,000 - pounds 16,500 - 'bribe' offered by the FA to the Americans to beat England), but nothing to gain. Defeat, though embarrassing, would only be a catastrophe for some of the players, not for Venables who is still in the early days of experimentation.

His fourth selection includes one surprise debutant, Newcastle's Barry Venison - who was not in the original squad - and two faces new to Venables' reign, bringing to 24 the players he has capped.

One, Teddy Sheringham, is a familiar face to the England coach who managed him at Spurs; the other, John Barnes, is familiar to any England watcher - over-familiar as far as many are concerned. Barnes will play in his new Liverpool role on the left side of midfield while Sheringham partners Alan Shearer in attack. The 30-year-old Venison will sit in front of the back four at the base of a midfield diamond which has David Platt at its apex and Darren Anderton on the right flank.

It is 4-4-2 (the 'Christmas Tree' formation has been temporarily dropped) but not as most English teams know it. 'I don't want to play in a rigid fashion, we have still got to be mobile, even the full- backs and centre-backs are encouraged to push forward,' Venables said.

Gary Pallister's return in defence, for the injured Steve Bould, is the fourth change from the side who drew with Norway in May (Venison and Barnes are in for the injured Paul Ince and Peter Beardsley, while the new system dictates Sheringham's replacement of Dennis Wise).

In goal David Seaman unexpectedly keeps his place though Venables said that did not mean he was ahead of Tim Flowers in the overall reckoning.

The most unfortunate omission is Matt Le Tissier who, after three substitute appearances, was due for a game. 'The new system has not helped his cause,' Venables said. 'I only have room for 11 players and want to see these ones in this formation.'

Platt, the captain, said he felt that the first three matches under Venables last season now seemed like 'pre-season friendlies. This is the beginning of the real thing.'

Platt, incidentally, denied reports that he has decided to return to England but admitted he was torn between 'wanting to win championships and FA Cups in England' and 'staying in Italy'. It is not just the money - even the big Premier League clubs could not match his Sampdoria salary - he clearly loves the Italian lifestyle. A decision, he added, is likely to be made in January, though Sampdoria have already expressed an interest in keeping him.

On Saturday they began with a 5-0 win over Padova who included Lalas. The American recalled 'the closest I came to speaking to Platt was when I kicked him once - he got up and scored'.

Lalas, with his red goatee, will be the most recognisable of the Americans even without his guitar. He and Marcelo Balboa may also provide a strong central bulwark in what appears to be a defensive side. Neither of the two players with Wembley experience - Derby's John Harkes (torn calf) and Luton's Juergen Sommer are included in a team who may feature eight of the team who went out to Brazil in the World Cup.

There are incentives for dreadlocked winger Cobi Jones - still seeking a work permit before he can join Coventry - goalkeeper Brad Friedel, denied one for Newcastle, and young schemer Claudio Reyna, who missed the World Cup.

There has been talk of revenge for last year's defeat - and, less convincingly, insistence that it is 'not a revenge mission'. Though only Barnes and Pallister remain from that match England will lack neither short nor long-term motivation.

Ken Jones, page 38

(Photograph omitted)

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